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Stories related to Computer Use in Human Services

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Crowd resistance to computer presentation in 1979 from Walter LaMendola

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Crowd resistance to computer presentation in 1979

from Walter LaMendola

The conference that was so tumultuous for me was in 1979.

In, 1978, I was nominated by International Federation of Information Processing Societies to submit materials about the Human Service System to be considered for an award. HHS was the name of the computer hardware/software system I developed. I don't know how I came to be nominated. I was a member of Association for Computer Machinery at the time and may have talked or demonstrated the system at one of our meetings.

The HSS was selected as an award winner and I was invited to receive the award, speak and display the system at the National Computer Conference in New York in the spring of 1979. One conference highlight was being filmed for a half hour segment on Dutch TV. They had me do the on-line computer based interview on my system and discuss the implications for confidentiality and privacy. The consumer could complete the Denver Community Mental Health Inventory on-line before seeing a therapist and produce a report for both the consumer and the therapist. I was so excited after that experience and all of the interest that I decided I was ready to show it to my human service colleagues.

The disastrous social work meeting was in the Fall of 79. I don't remember the city. The planning committee expressed some reluctance about letting me buy display space, but I did. I brought two of my staff, a programmer and my administrative assistant. I gave a speech about the system. The incident that stands out in my mind came directly after my speech. My programmer and ad assistant had been coming to me telling me that people were swearing at them. They were both discouraged by all of the negative remarks. One of the participants had started a petition to have us removed from the exhibit floor and a member of the planning committee had approached me and suggested we leave "...before there was more trouble..." As I was doing my speech, I saw my programmer waving at me. As I finished I went over and she told me I needed to come to the exhibit right away. I went over, and there was a crowd milling around the exhibit and my ad. asst. She was clearly frightened. I went up and people started saying negative things about our system and about computers, etc. It was getting out of hand, when an old man, assisted by his wife, pushed though the crowd and walked up to me. It was the former head of welfare in Pennsylvania, who I had worked for while in college. He greeted me and in a loud voice said "Walter, let me see what your system is all about. It looks interesting...." It broke the moment and people moved away. I took him over and started a demo. (top)


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